Rahul Sharma (Editor)

School bus

Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit

Up to 45 feet (13.7 m)

School bus

Front entry/exit door; rear/side emergency exit door(s)

Cutaway vanCowled chassisStripped chassis

Various sizes of diesel (US, Europe) or gasoline (Canada)

10–90 passengers, depending on floor plan

A school bus is a type of bus used for student transport: carrying students to and from school, home, and school events. In North America, school buses are purpose-built vehicles distinguished from other types of buses by design characteristics mandated by federal and state regulations; most notably, the use of school bus yellow, also used on some taxi cabs. In addition to their distinctive paint color, school buses are required to be fitted with warning lights and multiple safety devices.


Every year in the United States and Canada, school buses provide an estimated 10 billion student trips from home and school. Each school day in 2015, nearly 484,000 school buses transported 26.9 million children to and from school and school-related activities; over half of the United States K–12 student population is transported by school bus.

Outside North America, purpose-built vehicles for student transport are not as common. "School buses" can be a term in reference to buses in use for any bus dedicated to transporting students; the vehicles involved can be an older bus or coach retrofitted as a dedicated school bus or it can be a regular bus used for transporting students at the start and end of the school day, transporting adults during school hours and during the rest of the day.

19th century: Kid hacks

In the second half of the 19th century, many rural areas of the United States and Canada were served by one-room schools. For those students who lived beyond practical walking distance from school, transportation was facilitated in the form of the kid hack; at the time, "hack" was a term referring to certain types of horse-drawn carriages. While some kid hacks were essentially repurposed farm wagons, others were purpose-built for transporting people instead of cargo, featuring bench-type seating. As these were horse-drawn vehicles, the entrance door was rear-mounted (in order to avoid startling the horses when loading or unloading passengers). Later, one of the longest-running school bus manufacturers, Wayne Works (later Wayne Corporation), started producing its first school wagons in Indiana in 1886.

1900–1930: Motorized school vehicles

Following the transition to "horseless carriages", kid hacks switched from horse-drawn wagons to motorized vehicles based on automotive chassis. In terms of design, little changed, as many early school bus bodies essentially remained wagons mounted to truck frames; the rear entry door and perimeter seating remained. Weather protection was nearly non-existent; if provided, it consisted of a tarpaulin stretched above the passenger area.

In 1927, Ford dealership owner A.L. Luce produced a bus body for a 1927 Ford Model T. Unlike previous wood-bodied motorized buses, Luce used primarily steel panels with a wood frame; this would be the first bus produced by what would later become bus manufacturer Blue Bird. While the bus was constructed with a roof, its only weather protection was afforded by roll-up canvas side curtains.

1930s: All-metal school buses

The 1930s marked a major transition in school bus design, with the vehicle gaining a distinct, dedicated form in place of the adaptation of wagons and trucks to accommodate student passengers. For the ease of loading passengers and to improve forward visibility, the entry door was relocated from the rear to the front curbside corner, replaced by a door operated by the driver. The rear door gained a new function, repurposed as an emergency exit.

Along with the changes in configuration, the body design of school buses underwent major revisions as well. Following the lead of the steel-paneled 1927 Blue Bird bus, body manufacturers abandoned wagon-style design for all-steel automotive-type design, with Wayne producing the first all-steel body in 1930. As school buses were produced on a regional basis, weather protection varied widely by manufacturer; in place of canvas curtains, the 1930 Wayne all-steel bus introduced the first bus body with safety glass windows.

As school bus design paralleled design of light to medium-duty commercial trucks of the time, the advent of forward-control trucks would have their own influence on school bus design. In an effort to gain extra seating capacity and visibility, Crown Coach built its own cabover school bus design from the ground up. The highest-capacity school bus of the time, the 76-passenger Crown Supercoach was aptly named, as many California school districts operated in terrain requiring heavy-duty vehicles. As the 1930s progressed, flat-front school buses began to follow motorcoach design in styling as well as engineering, partially the reason the industry adopted "transit-style" in naming them. In 1940, the first mid-engined transit school bus was produced by Gillig in California.

Developing production standards

The custom-built nature of school buses created an inherent obstacle to their profitable mass production on a large scale. Although school bus design had moved away from the wagon-style kid hacks of the generation before, there was not yet an agreed on set of industry-wide standards for school buses. Organized by rural education expert Dr. Frank W. Cyr, a week-long 1939 conference at Teachers College, Columbia University forever changed the design and production of school buses. Funded by a $5000 grant, Dr. Cyr had invited transportation officials, representatives from body and chassis manufacturers, and paint companies.

To reduce the complexity of school bus production and increase safety, a set of 44 standards were agreed upon and adopted by the attendees (such as interior and exterior dimensions and the forward-facing seating configuration). To allow for large-scale production of school buses among body manufacturers, adoption of theses standards allowed for greater consistency among body manufacturers.

While many of the standards of the 1939 conference have been modified or updated, one part of its legacy remains a key part of every school bus in North America today: the adoption of a standard paint color for all school buses. While technically named National School Bus Glossy Yellow, school bus yellow was adopted for use since it was considered easiest to see in dawn and dusk, and it contrasted well with black lettering. While not universally used worldwide, yellow has become the shade most commonly associated with school buses both in North America and abroad.

1940s: Transition in role

In the years leading up to World War II, school buses would begin to take on a new role in the education system. This would lead to school districts purchasing and operating their own fleets of school buses, taking over from buses owner-operated by local individuals.

In all but the most isolated areas, the one-room schools from the turn of the century were being phased out and consolidated in favor of the multi-grade schools seen in urban areas. Following the war and the rise of suburban growth in North America, the need for school busing came into use for more than just rural areas; beyond a certain distance from home, community design often made walking to school impractical, particularly as students progressed into high school.

1950s-1960s: Adapting to demand

At the beginning of the 1950s, the baby boom generation began their education, leading to a significant increase in student populations across North America; this would be a factor that would directly influence school bus production into the early 1980s. To accommodate the larger student populations, school buses began to grow in size, adding extra rows of seats for the bus body. Coinciding with the larger bodies, truck manufacturers began to offer heavier-duty bus chassis. The same applied to transit-style school buses, as the first diesel-powered school bus was introduced in 1954 and the first tandem axle school bus in 1955 (a Crown Supercoach, with a 91-passenger seating capacity). At the end of the 1950s, a new option was developed, which is specified in many school buses today: a curbside wheelchair lift to transport wheelchair-bound passengers.

As full-size school buses grew larger during the 1950s and early 1960s, they became difficult to navigate the crowded, narrow streets of urban neighborhoods; other rural routes were extremely isolated, with roads that could not accommodate full-size buses. To fill this role, yellow-painted vehicles such as the International Travelall and Chevrolet Suburban came into use. As they entered production in the 1960s, passenger vans such as the Chevrolet Van/GMC Handi-Van, Dodge A100, and Ford Econoline were converted to school bus use, largely by the addition of red warning lights and yellow paint. A drawback to using passenger vans and utility vehicles is that, along with their lower seating capacity, they could not offer the same level of safety as a full-size school bus.

1970s: Focus on safety

During the 1970s, the school bus would see a number of safety-related updates. While most of these are related to improving the crashworthiness of the vehicle, others were designed to keep the vehicle out of an accident beforehand. To increase safety around school bus stops and decrease confusion over traffic priority, several states started to use amber warning lamps inboard of the traditional red ones. Activated 100–300 feet before stopping, the amber lights are intended to show drivers that a school bus is about to drop off or load students. In addition, to keep drivers from passing a stopped school bus in low visibility, the stop arm on the side of the bus was given a set of flashing lights.

As the school bus evolved as a specialized vehicle in the United States and Canada, concerns arose for the protection of passengers in major traffic collisions. In catastrophic school bus accidents, a particular structural weak point turned out to be the body joints where panels and pieces were fastened together. Since the 1930s, longitudinal steel guardrails were a feature protecting the sides of buses. Underneath the guardrails, bus manufacturers combined numerous steel panels to form the body of the bus; the panels were usually attached to the internal body structure by rivets or similar fasteners such as huckbolts.

After subjecting a bus to a rollover test in 1967, Ward Body Works discovered that bus construction of the time resulted in panel separation in body joints during a rollover crash; the company pointed out that many of their competitors were using relatively few rivets and fasteners. In contrast, in its own research, Wayne Corporation found that the body joints themselves as the weak points (regardless of the number of fasteners used). As a result, to reduce the risk of body panel separation, side panels began to be constructed from fewer and larger stampings. In 1973, the Wayne Lifeguard became the first school bus with single-stamping side and roof panels, eliminating major body joints. While single-piece stampings seen in the Lifeguard had their own manufacturing challenges, today's school buses use relatively few side panels to minimize body joints.

The focus on structural integrity influenced new requirements in the U.S. Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for school buses, most of which became applicable for school buses on April 1, 1977. These new federal standards brought significant change to the design, engineering, and construction of school buses and a substantial improvement in safety performance. Most visibly, these standards—known as Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for School Buses—mandated taller seats and thick padding on the front and back. Under the sheetmetal, the internal structure of virtually all school bus designs were required to be strengthened for improved crashworthiness.

Further improvement has resulted from continuing efforts by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Transport Canada, as well as by the bus industry and various safety advocates. As of 2016, all of these standards are still in effect.

In the 1970s, school busing expanded further, under controversial reasons; a number of larger cities began to bus students in an effort to racially integrate schools, which forced them to expand their bus usage.

As manufacturers sought to develop safer school buses, a new generation of small school buses was developed. In the mid-1970s, the Wayne Busette and Blue Bird Micro Bird were introduced. While still using a Chevrolet/GMC van chassis, both vehicles offered the protection of a full-size school bus; the rear half of the van body was replaced by a scaled-down bus body.

1980s-1990s: Transition in production

By the beginning of the 1980s, nearly the entire baby-boom generation had completed its high-school education, which led to a decrease in student populations in North America. Coupled with the recession economy of the early 1980s, the school bus production industry was left with a large degree of overcapacity; several manufacturers were in financial ruin.

During the 1980s and 1990s, safety would remain a highlight of many school bus redesigns and model introductions. To increase loading-zone visibility, the design of bus bodies began to move the driver upward, outboard, and forward; windshields grew larger in size. Improving the ergonomics of the drivers' compartment was intended to decrease driver distraction, which led to improved layouts of controls and switches. To avoid stalling in stop-and-go driving (and in potentially dangerous places, such as intersections or railroad crossings), automatic transmissions had begun to replace manual transmissions during the 1980s. As a result of the 1970s fuel shortages, steps were also taken to improve the fuel economy of school buses. In the 1980s, manufacturers began to include diesel engines as options in conventional and small school buses; previously, diesel engines were considered a premium option only used on transit-style school buses. In 1986, Navistar International became the first chassis manufacturer to phase out gasoline engines entirely. Other manufacturers followed suit, and diesel engines replaced gasoline engines in virtually all full-size school buses by the mid-1990s.

In 1986, with the signing of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act, school bus drivers across the United States became required to acquire a commercial driver's license (CDL); while still issued by individual states, the federal CDL requirement ensured that drivers of large vehicles such as school buses have a consistent training level. School buses are generally considered Class C vehicles with passenger and namesake endorsements, but the highest-capacity versions require a Class B license (based on their higher GVWR).

The demand for better forward visibility and better turning radius led to a major expansion of market share for transit-style school buses in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Initially, this was led by the 1986 Wayne Lifestar; however, the AmTran Genesis, Blue Bird TC/2000, and Thomas Saf-T-Liner MVP would prove far more successful. In 1996, AmTran introduced the AmTran RE, the first low-cost rear-engine school bus.

During the 1990s, an emerging trend among body manufacturers was mergers, joint ventures, and acquisitions among major chassis suppliers. Navistar International became the owner of AmTran (formerly Ward), Spartan Motors purchased Carpenter, and Thomas Built Buses was acquired by Freightliner.

2000s: 21st-century school bus

By the beginning of the 21st century, manufacturer consolidation and industry contraction would necessitate production changes among remaining school bus manufacturers. Gone were the days of customers picking and choosing school bus body and chassis separately; the acquisition of AmTran and Thomas along with the General Motors supply arrangement with Blue Bird had reduced the separate combinations available to build. Although the aspect of choice was disappearing, the decreased complexity paved the way for new product innovations previously thought impossible.

In the past, conventional-style buses were bodied on a chassis supplied by a separate manufacturer. For 2004, two manufacturers introduced conventional-body school buses that integrated both body and chassis within a single manufacturer. Blue Bird introduced the Vision; in the fashion of the All American, the chassis was designed by the company specifically for bus use and built in its own factory. Thomas Built Buses introduced the Thomas Saf-T-Liner C2; although the chassis was derived from the Freightliner Business Class M2, the chassis and the body of the C2 were designed together as a unique vehicle. A key trait of both the Vision and the C2 was improved visibility around the loading zone; both vehicles feature highly sloped hoods and extra glass around the entry door of the bus. In a major change from manufacturing precedent, the C2 was the first use of adhesive bonding to join body panels and minimizing the need for rivets in a school bus.

After the sale of the General Motors P-chassis to Navistar subsidiary Workhorse in 1998, the Type B bus configuration largely began to disappear. In their place, cutaway versions of Class 4-5 trucks began to appear; various school buses utilized Chevrolet/GMC C4500 and International 3200 cutaway cabs. In 2006, IC Bus introduced the BE200, the first Type B bus with a fully cowled chassis (a scaled-down Type C body).

During the 1990s, mergers and acquisitions would continue to influence school bus production; however, aside from the failure of startup manufacturer Liberty Bus, contraction was largely absent. In 2007, Collins Bus Corporation, the largest independent manufacturer of Type A buses, acquired Canadian manufacturer Corbeil out of bankruptcy. Corbeil joined Ohio-based manufacturer Mid Bus as a Collins subsidiary; manufacturing of all three product lines was consolidated at the Kansas factory owned by Collins. In 2009, Blue Bird and Girardin entered into a joint venture; Girardin now produces the entire small-bus product line for Blue Bird.

During the 2000s, safety devices were updated, as lap-type seatbelts were largely replaced by 3-point seatbelts. School bus crossing arms, first introduced in the late 1990s, were adopted by a number of jurisdictions. Electronics took on a new role in school bus operation. To increase child safety and security, alarm systems have been developed to prevent children from being left on unattended school buses overnight.

2010s: "Green" school buses

During the past decade, a number of changes have been made to develop a new generation of school buses; many of the changes are focused on producing environmentally friendly vehicles. In 2009, Blue Bird introduced a propane-fueled version of its Vision conventional, becoming the first manufacturer to sell a propane-fuel school bus from the factory. In 2011, Lion Bus of Saint-Jérôme, Quebec marked the return of full-size bus production to Canada. In partnership with Spartan Motors, Lion was the first all-new manufacturer of full-size school buses in 19 years. Lion has a single conventional-style school bus; in an unusual move to combat corrosion, its body was designed primarily with composite panels in place of the traditionally used steel. In 2014, a battery-operated version of the Lion made its debut with a CNG-fueled version debuting in 2015.

In the past decade, onboard GPS tracking devices have taken on a dual role of fleet management and location tracking. Not only does GPS tracking allow for internal management of costs, but it can be used to alert waiting parents and students of the real-time location of their bus. This is in use in the United States as well as worldwide markets, such as India.


In most cases, school bus body companies function as second stage manufacturers. However, some school buses (typically those of Type D configuration) have both the body and chassis produced from a single manufacturer. In 2013, 36,073 school buses were sold in North America, a 12.6% increase over 2012.

Production (North America)

In the United States, school buses are currently produced by six different manufacturers. Three of them—Collins Industries, Starcraft Bus, and Trans Tech—specialize exclusively in small buses, while two—IC Bus and Thomas Built Buses—produce both small and large buses. Blue Bird Corporation produces only full-size buses; its small buses are produced by Canadian manufacturer Girardin. Along with the United States, Canada has its own history of school bus production. Currently, it is home to Girardin Minibus, which produces small buses for Blue Bird as part of a joint venture. Since 2011, Lion Bus has produced full-size Type C school buses for both Canadian and U.S. operators.

In the past, Canada was home to facilities of several U.S. firms (Blue Bird, Thomas, Wayne); Canadian-produced school buses were exported to the United States, and Canada imported many U.S.-produced buses. Domestically, the Quebec-based firm Corbeil manufactured full-size and small school buses from 1985 to 2007; in 2008, it was purchased by Collins Industries.

Types of school buses

The North American school bus industry produces buses in four different body configurations, listed alphabetically (along with trade name). All school buses in North America are of single deck design. In the United States, school buses are restricted to a maximum width of 102 in (2.59 m) and a maximum length of 45 ft (13.7 m). Depending on specifications, school buses are currently designed with a seating capacity with up to 90 passengers.

Special education buses

In North America special education students receive special education buses which are typically meant to be smaller then other school buses.

Other school buses

In both public and private education systems, outside of school buses in regular route service, there are two other uses that involve school buses. An "activity bus" is a school bus used for providing transportation for students. Instead of being used in route service (home to school), the intended use of an activity bus is for transporting students solely for extracurricular activities. Depending on individual state and provincial regulations, the bus used for this purpose can either be a regular yellow school bus or a dedicated unit for this purpose. Dedicated activity buses, while not painted yellow, are fitted with the similar interiors as well as the same traffic control devices for dropping off students (at other schools).

In the past, groups transporting children and adults that did not need (or afford) a large bus commonly used 15-passenger vans to handle their transportation. However, such vehicles were at a disadvantage by comparison in terms of meeting safety regulations. To provide an alternative to 15-passenger vans (called "non-conforming vans" because they do not meet any safety standards for school buses), bus manufacturers have designed vehicles as alternatives to 15-passenger vans. These are called Multi-Function School Activity Buses (MFSAB). The basic design of MFSABs differs from yellow school buses because of their intended use. As they are intended for point-to-point transportation instead of route service, MFSABs are not fitted with traffic control devices (i.e., red warning lights, stop arm) nor are they painted school bus yellow. MFSAB buses are typically based on Type A school buses, although manufacturers offer MFSAB configurations for full-size buses as well.

For educational use, MFSABs are primarily used for extracurricular activities requiring transportation; in the private sector, they are typically purchased by child-care centers.

School bus safety

Since the initial development of consistent school bus standards in 1939, many of the ensuing changes to school buses over the past 75 years have been safety related, particularly in response to more stringent regulations adopted by state and federal governments. Ever since the adoption of yellow as a standard color, school buses deliberately integrate the concept of conspicuity into their design. When making student dropoffs or pickups, traffic law gives school buses priority over other vehicles; in order to stop traffic, they are equipped with flashing lights and a stop sign.

As a consequence of their size, school buses have a number of blind spots, which endanger passengers disembarking the bus and pedestrians standing or walking nearby. This safety challenge is addressed by improving the design and configuration of the bus windows, windshield, body panels, and mirrors in order to maximize visibility. In the case of an accident, the body structure of a school bus is designed with an integral roll cage along with a number of emergency exits to facilitate fast egress. Controversy exists over the use of seat belts as a restraint system for school bus passengers; officials of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board state school buses are safer than private automobiles even if they are not fitted with seat belts.


A key priority for a bus driver when driving, as well as when loading and unloading students, is proper sightlines around their vehicle; the blind spots formed by the school bus can be a significant risk to bus drivers and traffic, as well as pedestrians. In the United States, approximately of students killed outside of the school bus are not struck by other vehicles, but by their own bus.

To combat this problem, school buses are specified with sophisticated and comprehensive mirror systems. In addition, driver visibility and overall sightlines have become important considerations in vehicle redesigns; in comparison to past models, newer buses have much larger windscreens and fewer blind spots.

Yellow color

Yellow was adopted as a standard color for North American school buses beginning in 1939. In April of that year, Dr. Frank W. Cyr, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York organized a meeting to establish national school bus construction standards, including the adoption of a standard shade of paint. The color which became known as "school bus yellow" was selected because black lettering on that specific hue was easiest to see in the semi-darkness of early morning and late afternoon. Officially, it is designated "National School Bus Chrome" (later renamed "National School Bus Glossy Yellow" as the lead was removed from the pigment).

Although it is not a government specification outside of the United States and Canada, school buses outside North America sometimes feature some shade of yellow in part or in whole, and while some areas without school services have conducted evaluations of American yellow style school buses, other governments require their own distinctive paint schemes, often favouring other high visibility colours such as white or orange that may better suit their own climate or conditions.

Retroreflective markings

School buses often operate in low-visibility conditions, such as early morning, or in poor weather, as well as in rural areas. While their yellow paint color does give them a conspicuity advantage over other vehicles, darkness can make them hard to see. To improve their visibility, many state and provincial governments (for example, Colorado) require the use of retroflective tape on school buses. Marking the length, width, height, and in some cases, identifying the bus as a school bus, reflective tape makes the vehicle easier to see for other to mark all emergency exits, so rescue personnel can quickly find them in darkness. The equivalent in Canada is almost identical; the only difference is that red cannot be used as a retroreflective color.

Traffic priority

By the mid-1940s, most states had traffic laws requiring motorists to stop for school buses while children were loading or unloading. The justifications for this protocol are:

  • Children, especially the younger ones, have normally not yet developed the mental capacity to fully comprehend the hazards and consequences of street-crossing, and under U.S. tort laws, a child cannot legally be held accountable for negligence. For the same reason, adult crossing guards often are deployed in walking zones between homes and schools.
  • It is impractical in many cases to avoid children crossing the traveled portions of roadways after leaving a school bus or to have an adult accompany them.
  • The size of a school bus generally limits visibility for both the children and motorists during loading and unloading.
  • Since at least the mid-1970s, all U.S. states and Canadian provinces and territories have some sort of school bus traffic stop law; although each jurisdiction requires traffic to stop for a school bus loading and unloading passengers, different jurisdictions have different requirements of when to stop. Outside of North America, the school bus stopping traffic to unload and load children is not provided for. Instead of being given traffic priority, fellow drivers are encouraged to drive with extra caution around school buses.

    Warning lights and stop arms

    Around 1946, the first system of traffic warning signal lights on school buses was used in Virginia. This system comprised a pair of sealed beam lights similar to those employed in American headlamps of the time. Instead of colorless glass lenses, the warning lights utilized red lenses. A motorized rotary switch applied power alternately to the red lights mounted at the left and right of the front and rear of the bus, creating a wig-wag effect. Activation was typically through a mechanical switch attached to the door control. However, on some buses (such as Gillig's Transit Coach models and the Kenworth-Pacific School Coach) activation of the roof warning lamp system was through the use of a pressure-sensitive switch on a manually controlled stop paddle lever located to the left of the driver's seat below the window. Whenever the pressure was relieved by extending the stop paddle, the electric current was activated to the relay. Plastic lenses for warning lights were developed in the 1950s, though sealed beams—now with colorless glass lenses — were still most commonly used behind them until the mid-2000s, when light-emitting diodes (LEDs) began supplanting the sealed beams.

    With the adoption of FMVSS 108 in January 1968, four additional warning lights were gradually added to school buses; these were amber in color and mounted inboard of the red warning lights. Intended to signal an upcoming stop to drivers, as the entry door was opened at the stop, they were wired to be overridden by the red lights and the stop sign. Although 8-light systems were adopted by many states and provinces during the 1970s and 1980s, the all-red systems remain in use by some locales such as Saskatchewan and Ontario, Canada, as well as on buses built in Wisconsin before 2005 and older buses in California.

    To aid visibility of the bus in inclement weather, school districts and school bus operators add flashing strobe lights to the roof of the bus. Some states (for example, Illinois) require strobe lights as part of their local specifications.

    During the early 1950s, states began to specify a mechanical stop signal arm which the driver would swing out from the left side of the bus to warn traffic of a stop in progress. The portion of the stop arm protruding in front of traffic was initially a trapezoidal shape with stop painted on it. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 131 regulates the specifications of the stop arm as a double-faced regulation octagonal red stop sign at least 45 cm (17.7 in) across, with white border and uppercase legend. It must be retroreflective and/or equipped with alternately flashing red lights. As an alternative, the stop legend itself may also flash; this is commonly achieved with red LEDs. FMVSS 131 stipulates that the stop signal arm be installed on the left side of the bus, and placed so that when it is extended, the arm is perpendicular to the side of the bus, with the top edge of the sign parallel to and within 6 inches (15 cm) of a horizontal plane tangent to the bottom edge of the first passenger window frame behind the driver's window, and that the vertical center of the stop signal arm must be no more than 9 inches (23 cm) from the side of the bus. One stop signal arm is required; a second may also be installed. The second stop arm, when it is present, is usually mounted near the rear of the bus, and is not permitted to bear a stop or any other legend on the side facing forward when deployed.

    The Canadian standard defined in Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 131, is substantially identical to the U.S. standard.

    Safety devices

    In addition to the warning devices that allow them to stop traffic around them when picking up or dropping off students, school buses are also equipped with a number of different safety devices to prevent accidents or injuries and for the purposes of security.

    Emergency exits

    For the purposes of evacuation, school buses are equipped with a minimum of at least one emergency exit in addition to the main entry door. The rear-mounted emergency exit door is a design feature retained from when school buses were horse-drawn wagons and the entrance door was rear-mounted to avoid frightening the horses; in rear-engine school buses, the door is replaced by an exit window supplemented by a side-mounted exit door.

    Additional exits may be located in the roof (roof hatches), window exits, and/or side emergency exit doors. All are opened by the use of quick-release latches which activate an alarm. The number of emergency exits in a school bus depends on the size of the bus (its seating capacity) along with individual state regulations; Kentucky requires the most, with each full-size school bus having a total of eight emergency exits in addition to the entry door.

    Loading and unloading

    To inhibit pedestrians from walking close enough to the front of the bus that the hood obscures them from the driver's view, North Carolina and Connecticut are examples of states that requiring school buses to be equipped with crossing arms. These are devices which extend from the front bumper while the bus is stopped for loading or unloading. By design, these force passengers to walk forward several feet forward of the bus (into the view of the driver) before they can walk across the road.

    In the past, handrails in the entry way posed a potential risk to students; as they exited the bus, items such as drawstrings or other loose clothing could be caught if the driver was unaware and pulled away with the student caught in the door. To minimize this risk, school bus manufacturers have redesigned handrails and equipment in the stepwell area. In its School Bus Handrail Handbook, the NHTSA described a simple test procedure for identifying unsafe stepwell handrails.

    Video surveillance

    During the past two decades, video cameras have become common equipment installed inside school buses, primarily to monitor and record passengers' behavior. Video cameras have also been useful in determining the causes of accidents: on March 28, 2000, a Murray County, Georgia, school bus was hit by a CSX freight train at an unsignaled railroad crossing; three children were killed. The bus driver claimed to have stopped and looked for approaching trains before proceeding across the tracks, as is required by law, but the onboard camera recorded that the bus had in fact not stopped.

    As digital recording devices replace VHS cameras, a single device is replaced by multiple cameras throughout the bus, allowing for surveillance from multiple vantage points. Exterior-mounted cameras are mounted on the bus to photograph vehicles illegally passing the school bus when its stop arm and warning lights are in use (thus committing a moving violation).

    Seat belts

    In contrast to cars and other light-duty passenger vehicles, school buses are typically not equipped with passenger seat belts. In 1977, as provided in Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 222, the U.S. federal government required passive restraint and more stringent structural integrity standards for school buses instead of requiring lap seat belts. The passive restraint standards exempted school buses with a gross vehicle weight (GVWR) of over 10,000 pounds from requiring seat belts. A revised FMVSS 222 was set to take effect in October 2011 to require three-point, lap/shoulder belts in all newly manufactured Type A small school buses to improve occupant protection. The revised standard also introduces standards for testing lap/shoulder belt-equipped bus seats and the anchor points for the optional installation of these seat-belt systems in large school buses. Where in the past, FMVSS 222 seat belt equipped seats could reduce passenger capacity by up to one third, NHTSA is recognizing new technology that allows using seatbelts for either three small (elementary-age) children or two larger children (high-school age) per seat.

    Whether seat belts should be a requirement has been a topic of controversy. In October 2013, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) most recently stated at their annual transportation conference (NAPT) that they now fully support three-point lap-shoulder seat belts on school buses. As of 2015, they are a requirement in at least five states: California, Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Texas. Of the states that equip buses with two-point lap seat belts (Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York), only New Jersey requires seat belt usage by riders. In other states, it is up to the district or operator whether to require riders to use them or not.

    In July 2004, California became the first state to require three-point lap/shoulder seat belts on all new Type A small school buses. A year later, this requirement was extended to large Type C and Type D school buses. Texas had planned a voluntary adoption of seat belts in newly purchased large school buses by 2010, with the state reiumbursing school districts for the additional costs. However, due to budget cuts, only 36% of the planned funding was allocated for the extra costs


    In 1967 and 1972, as part of an effort to improve crash protection in school buses, researchers at UCLA would play a role in the development of the interior design for school buses that was phased in by the end of the 1970s. Using the metal-backed seats then in use as a means of comparison, several new seat designs were tested. In its conclusion, the UCLA researchers found that the safest design was a 28-inch high padded seatback spaced a maximum of 24 inches apart, using the concept of compartmentalization as a passive restraint. While the UCLA researchers found the compartmentalized seats to be the safest design, they found active restraints (such as seatbelts) to be next in terms of importance of passenger safety.

    In 1977, FMVSS 222 mandated a change to compartmentalized seats, though the height requirement was lowered to 24 inches.

    According to the NTSB, the main disadvantage of the design is its lack of protection in side-impact collisions (with larger vehicles) and rollover situations. Though by design, students are protected front to back by compartmentalization, it allows the potential for ejection in other crash situations (however rare).

    School buses and the environment

    In theory, school buses affect pollution in the same manner as carpooling, but on a much larger scale. In total, it is estimated that the approximately 480,000 school buses in the United States do the job of 17.3 million cars when it comes to transporting students. However, as nearly all are powered by internal-combustion engines, school buses are not a completely pollution-free method of transportation such as biking or walking.

    Some of the environmental drawbacks of school busing stem from engine idling while waiting for students to be unloaded and loaded at bus stops and schools. Since most school buses use diesel fuel, people standing or walking near the bus are exposed to exhaust fumes, which are believed to lead to health problems. Since the mid-2000s, emissions standards for diesel engines have been upgraded considerably. In response, diesel engine manufacturers have developed more technologically advanced engines and emission control strategies such as Selective catalytic reduction. A school bus that properly met emissions standards for 2007 was 60 times cleaner than a bus from 1990. As an alternative to bus replacement, upgraded emission controls and diesel particulate filters have been developed for older vehicles

    Alternative fuels

    Although diesel fuel is most commonly used in large school buses (and even in many smaller ones), alternatives such as LPG/propane and CNG have been developed to counter the drawbacks that diesel and gasoline-fueled school buses pose to the environment.

    As a result of the 1970s energy crisis, propane conversions of gasoline engines were made available in the late 1970s and 1980s (most commonly those used in the General Motors B-Series). These conversions fell out of favor due to stability of gasoline prices and the increasing usage of diesel engines. In the late 2000s, as increasingly stringent emissions regulations affected the performance of diesel engines, propane-fueled powertrains regained interest. In 2009, Blue Bird Corporation became the first manufacturer to offer an optional propane-fueled engine as original-equipment specification; in 2013, Thomas Built Buses launched its own propane-fueled variant of the Saf-T-Liner C2.

    As a source of fuel, compressed natural gas was first introduced in school buses by Blue Bird in 1991, using a variant of the Cummins C8.3 inline-6 diesel engine. Along with the Thomas Saf-T-Liner HDX, the current version of the rear-engine Blue Bird All American today uses a variant of the Cummins ISL-G as a CNG option.

    Hybrid-electric and battery-powered school buses

    For many operators, the routes of a school bus prove advantageous for the use of an electric bus; charging can be achieved before and after the bus is transporting students (when the bus is parked). During the 1990s, a few battery-powered buses were developed. Primarily for research purposes, they were conversions of existing school buses.

    During the 2000s, the development would change as manufacturers would produce diesel-electric hybrid school buses. Again based on existing vehicles, their high price and complexity would lead against widespread acceptance.

    In the 2010s, although hybrid school buses would be replaced by alternative-fuel counterparts, several fully electric school buses would make their debut. Trans Tech Bus would produce two designs, the eTrans (based on the Smith Electric Newton cabover truck), and the SST-e, a conversion of the Ford E-Series. In 2015, the first full-size fully electric school bus entered production as Lion Bus introduced the eLion, powered by a TM4 electric motor.

    Other uses

    As a result of their large size and sturdy construction, vehicles built from school bus bodies are desirable for many other uses outside of student transport.

    In law enforcement

    Larger police agencies may own their own buses for transporting large numbers of officers for a number of reasons. As these often offer higher capacity seating than other buses, the vehicles employed are based on school buses. Other police buses are custom-built as mobile command centers, using school bus bodyshells. Other uses by law enforcement often involve prisoner transport vehicles.

    In community outreach

    With their large interior size, the body shells of school buses are among one of the most common type of buses for bookmobiles and mobile blood donation centers (bloodmobiles). Bookmobiles feature interior shelving for books and library equipment; bloodmobiles feature mobile phlebotomy stations and blood storage. Both types of vehicles spend long periods of time in the same place; to reduce fuel consumption, they often have on-board electrical generators to power their interior equipment and climate control.

    In church use

    Churches throughout the United States and Canada use buses to transport their members, both to church services and to church events. In this capacity, many churches use vehicles based on school buses. Some churches own school buses purchased second-hand, while other churches own vehicles purchased new (other churches own minibuses with wheelchair lifts).

    In nearly all cases, federal regulations require the removal of "School Bus" lettering and the disabling/removal of stop arms/warning lights. In some states, the bus is required to change its color from School Bus Yellow entirely. In church use, transporting adults and/or children, traffic law no longer gives church buses traffic priority in most states (Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia being the only states where a church bus can stop traffic with flashing red lights).

    Lifespan and retirement

    As of 2016, the average age of a school bus in the United States is 9.3 years. School buses can be retired from service due to a number of factors, including vehicle age or mileage, mechanical condition, emissions compliance, or any combination of these factors. In some states and provinces, school bus retirement comes is called for at specific age or mileage intervals, regardless of mechanical condition. In recent years, budget concerns in many publicly-funded school districts have necessitated that school buses be kept in service longer.

    When a school bus is retired from school use, it can see a wide variety of usage. While a majority are scrapped for parts and recycling (a requirement in some states), better-running examples are put up for sale as surplus vehicles. Second-hand school buses are sold to such entities as churches, resorts or summer camps; others are exported to Central America, South America, or elsewhere. Other examples of retired school buses are preserved and restored by collectors and bus enthusiasts; collectors and museums have an interest in older and rarer models. Additionally, restored school buses appear alongside other period vehicles in television or film.

    After a school bus is sold, NHTSA regulations require that the stop arms and warning signals of a school bus be removed or disabled. If the bus is to transport passengers, the exterior must be painted a color other than school bus yellow and all school bus lettering must be removed.

    School bus conversions

    In retirement, not all school buses live on as transport vehicles. In contrast, the purchasers of school buses use the large body and chassis to use as either a working vehicle, or as a basis to build a rolling home. To build a utility vehicle for farms, owners often remove much of the roof and sides, creating a large flatbed or open-bed truck. Other farms use unconverted, re-painted, school buses to transport their migrant workforce.

    Skoolies are retired school buses converted into recreational vehicles (the term also applies to their owners and enthusiasts). While some examples are fairly primitive, others rival production-built RVs in equipment and quality. Exteriors can range from conservative designs to the bus equivalent of an art car.

    An example of a school bus converted to an RV is the 1946 International Harvester school bus abandoned on the Stampede Trail in Alaska where Christopher McCandless lived and died in 1992 (often referred to as the "Magic School Bus").

    Exported school buses

    Retired school buses from Canada and the United States are sometimes exported to Africa, Central America, South America, or elsewhere. Used as public transportation between communities, these buses are nicknamed "chicken buses" for both their crowded accommodation and the (occasional) transportation of livestock alongside passengers. In order to attract passengers and fares, bus owners often redecorate the yellow school bus with flamboyant color schemes and body trim.

    Around the world

    Outside of North America, the yellow school bus is not as common; buses used for the purpose of student transport are typically closer in design to mass-transit buses. These buses may be painted yellow or other similar shades, but school bus yellow is not a government specification like it is on school buses from the United States or Canada and so is generally seen only on buses imported from North America. School buses outside of North America typically do not have traffic priority while loading or unloading students; school bus traffic stop laws differ from North American counterparts (if they exist at all).

    Mainland China

    In mainland China, purpose-built vehicles for transporting schoolchildren are not commonly used. Due to lack of buses and absence of regulation, overloading of buses with children in China for school routes is commonplace. Consequently, accidents happen frequently.

    Some Chinese bus manufacturers, such as Zhengzhou Yutong Group Co., Ltd., developed a school bus model, the ZK6100DA, to be purchased by schools in China. It was described as a "big-nose school bus" with a "classic western-style appearance" by one online newspaper. FAW developed the similar CA6750. Both school buses hold approximately 35 student passengers. In addition to large school buses, minibuses are sold by Chengdu and Maxus; these school buses hold from 16 to 24 passengers.

    In February 2012, the potential of American-imported school buses was explored as American manufacturers Blue Bird and IC Bus (Navistar) displayed buses at a bus industry trade show in Beijing.

    Hong Kong

    In Hong Kong, younger students are transported between their homes and schools by "nanny vans". These vehicles are typically van-based and are smaller than a minibus. When nanny vans originated, they were regulated primarily by the schools and the van drivers. Today, in the interest of safety, nanny vans are government-regulated vehicles that run on fixed routes.


    In Singapore, student transport by bus is usually provided by local scheduled public transport bus services, such as the 31, 72, 88, 179 and 199 services; and also various train services. Dedicated bus services for school students are usually contracted out to local bus companies, using ordinary buses which are used for other purposes when not in use for school journeys.

    Examples of school buses used in Singapore include:


    In Germany, students travel to school on scheduled public train and bus routes. In most cases, these services operate at times to suit school hours and are not run during weekends and holiday periods, though the services are open to use by non-school-related travellers. Local authorities subsidise the routes but parents or guardians are required to pay a contribution to the cost of a season ticket for use of the services. Many scholars use their own bicycles to travel to school and may take these with them when a part of the journey is by train.

    As student transport is heavily dependent on the public transport system in urban areas, most students are transported on mass-transit or intercity buses along with minibuses in support. To distinguish themselves from other buses, routes that transport students are required to have a destination sign worded "Schulbus" with a yellow background. German traffic law gives traffic priority to school buses unloading and loading students; school buses are to warn traffic using their four-way hazard lights.

    The maximum speed for German school buses varies. While coaches are typically limited to 80 kilometres per hour (50 mph), any buses with standing passengers are limited to 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph).


    In Italy, school buses are typically painted yellow or orange. The vehicles used for student transport are usually minibuses or midibuses. As in North America, school buses run on fixed routes and stops.

    While only a legal requirement for bus transporting Materne (preschool) students, school bus drivers are provided with an aide to manage the students on the bus.


    In Poland, school buses are used in a similar fashion as those in the United States, to connect residents of rural areas to schools located far away. While officially lettered autobus szkolny (Polish for "school bus"), they are colloquially known as gimbus.

    Along with their counterparts in North America, school buses in Poland have several design features to differentiate them from standard buses. First, all school buses are painted orange. Inside, the driver's compartment is not allowed to be blocked from the passenger compartment; however, any rear door must be able to be locked by the driver. All doors must lock at speeds above 5 kilometres per hour (3.1 mph).


    In a fashion similar to school buses in North America, school buses in Russia are allowed to stop traffic (with both lights and alarms) when loading and unloading students at bus stops. School bus drivers are also accompanied by aides, who are given their own seating on the bus; buses also have onboard luggage space.

    School buses transporting children are identified by the wording Перевозка детей (Transporting Children). All school buses are restricted to a maximum speed of 60 kilometres per hour (37 mph).

    Prior to 1999, buses intended for transporting school children differed only in their route identification; no government regulations were required. In 2001, the Russian government began to acquire dedicated school buses, particularly to transport students in rural areas.


    As in many other countries, in Ukraine, school buses are painted yellow or orange. In Ukrainian school buses are called "шкільний автобус".

    United Kingdom

    In the United Kingdom, student transport by bus is usually provided by local scheduled public transport bus services. Dedicated bus services for school students are usually contracted out to local bus companies, using ordinary buses that are used for other purposes when not in use for school journeys.

    During the 1990s, in a move to replace outdated Leyland double-decker buses and to establish dedicated school bus service to encourage students to travel to school by bus, several local governments purchased right-hand drive Blue Bird buses produced in the United States; West Sussex was the first in 1997 and Cheshire did so in 1999. In the private sector, FirstGroup launched First Student UK in 2000. While initially using right-hand drive Blue Bird TC/2000s imported from the United States, the company switched to Turkish-produced BMC 1100 buses later in the decade. First Student UK school buses use the same monochromatic yellow livery required in North America. MyBus is a group of bus contractors that use school buses solely for school transport. Buses are fitted with seatbelts, and full-time drivers are assigned to each route.

    Since 2006, the 66-passenger Wright Eclipse SchoolRun purpose-built school bus body has been produced by Wrightbus of Northern Ireland on a Volvo B7R chassis. Unlike most American school buses, it features 2+3 seating (instead of 3+3 seating), but a side wheelchair lift is specified.

    Disabled minibuses

    Children with more complex needs or disabilities are often transported to special schools in purpose-built minibuses. In a similar fashion to their counterparts in North America, these minibuses are school bus bodies fitted to full-size van chassis. In Europe, the Ford Transit and the Mercedes-Benz Vario are popular donor chassis for such vehicles.


    Canadian school buses are similar to their U.S. counterparts both in terms of overall design and their usage by school systems. The primary functional difference is the adaptation to the bilingual population of Canada. In francophone Quebec, the signage on the outside of the bus is in French; the front and rear legends read écoliers"—French for "Schoolchildren" ("School Bus" translated into French is the much longer "autobus scolaire"). The stop signal arm legend may read arrêt, French for "Stop", or may have both "stop" and "arrêt". In addition, all emergency exit designations and instructions are required to be bilingual. Further safety requirements may be introduced at a provincial or even local level; for example, some coastal jurisdictions where fog is common insist on buses being fitted with roof-mounted strobe lights for use in poor visibility.

    As Canada does not use the customary system, instrument panel gauges are calibrated in metric units. School buses, like all other Canadian vehicles, are equipped with daytime running lights (DRLs). Older buses not equipped with DRLs are driven with headlights on.

    Buses are sometimes marketed to customers in Canada differently from in the United States. In one example, the Blue Bird All American is rebadged as the Blue Bird TX3 in Canada (and other export markets). Additionally, of the three regionally focused brands sold by Collins Industries, only Corbeil is sold in Canada, due to its previous manufacturing base in Quebec.


    In Mexico, in addition to yellow school buses seen from the United States, various other types of buses are used in the role of student transport. As in the United States, many schools own their own fleets of school buses; school bus yellow is not a government regulation, so most buses are painted in individual school colors. Depending on capacity needs, vans, minibuses, and midibuses are also used. Among retired American school buses, some newer ones are imported into Mexico and put back into school service.

    Unlike the United States and Canada, school-owned buses are not primarily used for route service (due to high cost); instead, they are often used for field trips and other related excursions. In addition to students using regular transit systems, several Mexican companies specialize in scheduled student transportation.

    In Mexico City there is a special free bus service available to all the public in general; it is the "Puma-Bus" service, covering internal routes inside of the university complex located in "university city" at the south part of the same city, due to the extension of this scholar complex its operated in 10 routes that connect several points of the campus with Massive Transport Systems located near the complex (Metro, Metrobus and several local bus lines), all the routes operate from Monday to Friday, excepting those that gives services to cultural and sport centers, like the Universum Museum, Nezahualcoyotl Concert Hall and University Stadium. This service uses Low-Floor Mercedes Benz Citaro buses along with conventional units.


    In Australia, school buses vary in colour with yellow buses being rare and are distinguishable from other buses by a yellow school zone sign or a sign that reads "School Bus" on the top rear end of the bus. As school route buses are almost universally run by direct government contract, the livery of the bus is generally that of the contractor, with the bus commonly also being used for normal scheduled routes as required. In NSW, however, the State Government has begun a program to bring all public transport in the state under one livery including strict livery regulations for new vehicles purchased for government contract use. The style is typically the same as public buses in other countries, as demonstrated in the picture from Wagga Wagga, NSW (which is in the livery of the local operator). Buses used on school routes are required to bear 40 km/h (25 mph) speed limit signs on their rear and to flashing yellow lights on the front and rear, similar to those in the US and other places. When stopping or stopped, the lights flash indicating other drivers must not travel past the bus in either direction faster than 40 km/h (the same speed limit is used in 'school zones' on roads adjacent to schools at times when most students are expected to be arriving or leaving). Drivers must also cede right of way to all buses (school or otherwise) attempting to pull out from a stop. Dedicated bus lanes are common in larger cities, where buses are also allowed to move off first from traffic lights before other traffic is shown a green light. Some areas also have dedicated busways. Increasingly, jurisdictions are requiring new buses purchased for use on school routes to be fitted with seat belts and 'compartmentalisation' features, or even requiring students to use seatbelts at all times.

    Private and public schools often have 'activity' style buses, sometimes in a colour matching the 'school colours' although more commonly with just the name and logo of the school on the side and/or front of the bus to save the cost of custom painting. They are used by many schools for smaller excursions, i.e. to transport a single sport team or class, in order save on external hire costs and are consequently generally also driven by school staff. In order to allow staff to drive them with a standard car or light truck licence these vehicles are generally quite small, 22 seat buses are very common in this role.

    The vast majority of schools in Australia (both government and private) do not have their own buses for transporting children between the school and their home and thus most school children in Australia that do travel by bus travel on public transport buses, either on standard scheduled public transport routes, or on specific 'school travel' routes. Most school routes do not allow the general adult public to ride along with the children, although this does vary by location according to practicality (i.e. remote areas) and local regulation.

    Many Australian school children travel 'free' on non fare paying bus services to their local school or using a bus pass that they get issued at the beginning of the school year that covers transport with the relevant bus (and often other public transport such as train or ferry) network/s for travel to and from school only, for which the contractor in turn receives a government subsidy amount for each trip, although specifics of the schemes vary from state to state, some only providing subsidy to remote or low income families. Many thousands of children in Australia thus have to travel daily to school using a number of different public transport routes with different bus, train, tram and ferry networks. In most places, as of 2013, this is even achieved with a single pass.

    New Zealand

    See also Student transport.

    In New Zealand, student transport is sometimes provided by the New Zealand Ministry of Education through school bus contractors or general bus companies. Bus companies generally have a fleet of older transit buses or coaches, different from the newer public service fleet vehicles to cater for school services.

    While carrying students, buses are marked by either "SCHOOL", "SCHOOL BUS", "KURA" (Maori for "school"), or pictograms of children in black on a fluorescent chartreuse background, and a limited on the open road to 80 km/h (50 mph) . These signs all indicate that a motorist should slow to 20 km/h (12 mph) when passing a stationary bus in either direction


    School bus Wikipedia